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Sunday 24 June 2012

The Simplex Typewriter: Glorious Simplicity!

Samuel Alexander Thompson's 1930 Simplex design, the Number 200
In 1893 George Canfield Blickensderfer wrote that the manufacture of typewriters had gotten far too complicated: he argued the simpler the machine, with the fewer moving parts, the better the typewriter. I’m not sure this could necessarily be said of some of his later models - the Blicks 7, 8 and 9 - but George’s word remains my gospel.
At a time when Blickensderfer was perfecting his revolutionary Blick 5 in Stamford, Connecticut, in New York Analdo Myrtle English was having similar – though even more radical - thoughts about the simplicity of typewriters.
English was developing what would be, he said, a “new and improved type-writing machine … simple and economical in construction and effective in operation, the invention being distinguished by a novel and reliable feed mechanism for word-spacing, a novel line-spacing attachment …”
This, of course, became the famous Simplex, a typewriter that outlasted the Blickensderfer by more than half a century. English’s patent was issued in 1892, and during the next 57 years, eight more patents would be granted for this most basic of all writing machines, the last six of them to Samuel Alexander Thompson.
The Number 200
Next week we mark the anniversary of the last two of these being issued: 80 years ago, on June 28, 1932; and finally, on June 28, 1949 – at time when Thompson was 76 and still working on improving the Simplex. (This last patent was the only one assigned to the Simplex Typewriter Company, of New York).
The 1949 Number 300
Samuel Alexander Thompson was born of Northern Irish parents in Grantham, Lincoln County, Ontario, on February 21, 1873. His elder brother, William James Thompson (born April, 1861) moved to the US in 1879 and 10 years later Samuel joined William and his American wife Hattie in Brooklyn, New York. William Thompson worked as a machinist, an occupation Samuel took up before becoming a lithographer. William became a manufacturer, and Samuel a typewriter manufacturer.
Analdo English’s original Simplex pattern was assigned to Philip Becker of Brooklyn. Seven years later, in 1899, Becker and William Thompson were jointly issued with a patent for an improved version of the same machine, as they were again in 1902. These first three patents for the Simplex subsequently became the property of Samuel Thompson.
In 1903 Samuel Thompson applied for a patent  for what is perhaps the most recognisable – and common - of the early Simplexes. This was granted in 1905. In 1915 Thompson was issued with another patent for the machine, and in 1924 a third one.
Note this ad states $1 typewriters are "utterly useless
for any purpose except that of a toy".
The original Simplex sold for $2.75. It stayed at that price for a very long time.
It was not until 1930 that Thompson, in applying for a fourth patent for the Simplex, referred to it for the first time as having “particular reference to a toy typewriter especially designed for children”. Interesting, in none of the previous five patents which had followed the original English design was there any reference to any of the preceding designs. 
Yet in this 1930 application, Samuel Thompson referred to the Simplex as being “in the nature of an improvement over my  prior United States Letters Patents Nos. 481,855, granted August 30, 1892; 621,628, granted March 21, 1899; 696,304, granted March 25, 1902; 781,473, granted January 31, 1905; 1,138,427, granted May 4, 1915; and 1,521,408, granted December 30, 1924”. In other words, he was not only claiming English’s patent as his own, but those which had been issued to Becker and to his brother, William Thompson.
This fourth patent in Samuel Thompson’s own name was issued in 1932 and was quickly followed by a patent for a “combined box and receptacle for toy typewriters and the like”.
Only in his last patent, applied for in 1947, did Thompson refer to any other type of toy typewriters, and these were Marx products designed by Samuel Israel Berger and Raymond Lohr respectively, both of which have been covered elsewhere on this blog. Thompson borrowed the tiered keyboard idea from both. Lohr, by the way, was educated at Xavier University, Cincinnati, where Richard Polt is now a professor of philosophy.
This is Raymond Koessler's Simplex and a letter he wrote to his uncle in 1915, aged 11. Raymond died in 1917 of the Spanish flu:
Is this the first Typecast?
Another boy called Raymond, this time Raymond Watts of London, England, also got a Simplex from his father for Christmas, in 1917, and, like Raymond Koessler, wrote letters and notes with it:
Since Simplexes were ideal for children to write with while confided to bed, Raymond Watts and his brothers, Harold and Cyril, were encouraged by Simplex's British branch to enter this competition:
Test, or sample. typing sheets still come with typewriters made in 2012 
Here is a mixed selection of some of my other Simplex typewriters:

1 comment:

shordzi said...

Viva la Simplex! And thanks for this beautiful post.